Probably no aspect of motorcycling deserves as much attention as tires. After all, it’s those two tiny (2 – 3 square inches) contact patches that separate the rider from disaster in the rain, in corners, during braking, and through thousands of miles of sometimes high speed road riding. The science of motorcycle tire design and friction theory are well-covered on the internet with countless treatises by knowledgeable (and, it must be said, not so knowledgeable) writers. And ultimately personal preference, riding style and skill level will determine the right tires for one’s own ride. But one thing that is a certainty is that they will be pneumatic tires – there are no other viable options on the market.
Which is all quite amazing since the pneumatic tire has not fundamentally changed since Robert William Thomson patented the first one in Scotland in 1846. (The first practical pneumatic tire (“tyre”) was developed by another Scot, John Boyd Dunlop, in 1887. This was the start of the Dunlop Tire Company.)
While airless tires and solid rubber tires have been developed for specific uses, the pneumatic tire remains the standard for most vehicles, including motorcycles. But that may soon change.
Michelin Tires is testing (and one would assume other manufacturers as well) a new type of airless tire. When and if they make it into production remains unknown at this point, but apparently they also have a motorcycle variant in development. This was covered by The Kneeslider (http://thekneeslider.com/archives/2005/11/17/michelin-airless-motorcycle-tires/) back in 2005, so it’s not hot-off-the-presses new technology. But perhaps the fact they’ve been working on this for at least 6 or 7 years now is indicative of the challenges faced by manufacturers to provide a safe and reliable tire for all the driving (and riding) conditions we experience.
Still, they are cool and innovative and it would be nice to see a real alternative emerge to what is, essentially, 150-year-old technology. Besides, if you’ve ever experienced a blowout at speed on a motorcycle tire you’ll REALLY appreciate not having to worry about that few seconds of shorts-soiling excitement ever again.